Watching England's cricketers degenerate from a position where they had the powerful South African opponents by the throats midway through the first Test of their four-match series into a state of disarray nine days later was a depressing experience. The abject situation was partly of their own making as the captain Michael Vaughan and his panel of selectors mystified the entire country by their shock call-up of the unheralded seam bowler Darren Pattinson just before the second Test began at Headingley last Friday morning.
"Darren who?" was the exasperated inquiry of hordes of knowledgeable cricket watchers as a Grimsby-born, Australian-educated journeyman was promoted to international ranks ahead of tried-and-trusted performers such as Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard and the fit-again Simon Jones. It was a baffling decision which wrecked the balance of a team who had performed admirably in the first three days of the series and it is a decision that has still not been properly explained in the bitter aftermath of a 10-wicket hammering.
Why did England need to replace the injured Ryan Sidebottom with a like-for-like substitute when they had already recalled the talismanic Andrew Flintoff to bolster their fast bowling armoury? England had managed well enough with a three-pronged seam attack when they made South Africa follow on at Lord's and, although that combination patently lacked penetration in seeking to complete what would have been a deserved victory, there was no reason to think it would be found wanting second time around.
The advance notification that Flintoff would be back for the second Test led to an extensive guessing game about who would make room for the man who did more than any to wrest the Ashes from Australia in 2005. Paul Collingwood was the overwhelming favourite to be the casualty and that eventually proved to be the case, but why was Sidebottom not offered a reprieve? Struggling for form he may be, but the Durham all-rounder would surely have contributed more towards avoiding last weekend's debacle than the hapless Pattinson who managed to take two expensive wickets on his debut, the first of them courtesy an appalling umpiring error.
Flintoff's recall at No seven, one place behind the inadequate wicket-keeper/batsman Tim Ambrose, suggested that the Lancashire all-rounder was being included more for his fearsome fast bowling than his explosive hitting which is some way from regaining its sharpness. All the more reason then to keep faith with Collingwood, who has frequently come to the team's aid in difficult batting circumstances, rather than inflict further misery on the talented Durham player who has carried the can with a four-match suspension for the one-day international team's slow over rate against New Zealand earlier this summer.
Collingwood, who regularly takes wickets and catches when England are not batting, was clearly distraught as Vaughan, who is not exactly leading by example with the bat, pointed the finger to identify him as the odd man out of England's 12. Nobody knows whether Collingwood would have been able to resist the impatient flashes at wide deliveries but the chances are he would have been more businesslike at the crease. But there is no respite for the selectors who must name a squad on Saturday for the third Test at Edgbaston. It promises to be one of the most difficult selection meetings of Vaughan's five-year, 50-Test reign as England captain.